If you have a bathroom in need of remodeling you might be cringing at the thought of how long the work can take, the expense and the return on investment. Fortunately, with proper pre-planning, and making sure you have decisions made in advance and materials on hand when you need them, you can do your part to prevent any unseen delays. Although you never know what you might uncover when you open closed walls, (especially in older homes) knowing the key elements of design in advance can save you and your contractor the headaches of having to go back and rework things. I’ve put together a quick checklist guide for things to consider when doing a gut renovation of your bathroom. The amount of options and decisions that can be made in a bathroom can be overwhelming. Make sure you have a contractor that you trust and consider using a designer that can help you focus your attention and prioritize decisions in a timely manner. Spending tens of thousands of dollars to renovate a bathroom with design flaws is money wasted. We’ve created a handy downloadable checklist for would-be remodelers, to help the process go smoothly.
First and foremost, what is the function of the bathroom? Is it a low traffic guest bathroom that doesn’t need a lot of storage for toiletries? Is it a shared kids’ bathroom that needs lots of storage and privacy in different areas, so one person can use the vanity while someone else is using the shower? Will a handshower be useful for bathing small children in the tub? Is it a master bathroom that needs lots of storage, some nicer amenities like a freestanding tub or steam shower? Are there linen closets in the adjacent areas to store extra towels and toiletries, or do you need to find a way to store that in the room? To figure out what your needs are try first establishing what IS and is NOT working in your current layout.
After demolition, framing is one of the first steps of the process. It is essential to determine a few things before the walls are closed up and then tiled. Once walls are closed you can’t go back in!
If storage is a priority, you may want to consider adding recessed medicine cabinets or closets. Obviously, a closet would be drawn into your floor plan at the start of things. But if you forget to think about a medicine cabinet it will be difficult to add one later. You’ll need to allow for framing, and have the actual cabinet selected with those dimensions, if not actually having the piece on site to use for a rough opening.
Recessed shelves next to this vanity act as an open medicine “cabinet”
Even if your finishes aren’t selected and finalized you should decide if you want a floating vanity or one that stands on the floor (the vanity can be a key decision; read about the latest trends here). Or if you’re adding a bench to the shower, this will have to be part of the construction planning. Floating vanities and benches will need proper support and blocking in the wall, as well as make-up magnifying mirrors that pull out and extend (you don’t want to rip the drywall off the wall pulling out the arm of your mirror!).
In the Greenwich, CT bathroom shown here, lots of framing decisions needed to be made in advance. We reframed the wall for the wall-mounted toilet tank, added blocking for the floating vanity and pull-out make-up mirror, and framed for the shower niche. We were unable to recess the medicine cabinet due to preexisting locations of pipes running in the walls.
You’ll want to think about how you’re storing your shampoo and other toiletries in the bath/shower. Will you have a ledge, or a niche? You’ll need to determine those dimensions, which wall they will go on and how that could affect a tile layout. Make sure you have an idea of how big your bottles are to make sure your niche is big enough! I recommend using a smaller format accent tile inside the niche to add a decorative element. It’s also looks nicer in a smaller space than having to cut larger sized tiles. If using a bigger tile try using a module of that tile when determining the size of the niche (for example, a 3”H x 6” W tile could go in a 12” x 24” niche, 4 tiles high and 4 tiles wide). Check out this recent post for the latest in tile trends.
You don’t need to have your exact plumbing models selected during this phase of construction, but you do need to know what brand you’ll be using, as the roughs and valves that go into the wall are brand specific and compatible with only certain fixtures. You will need to decide if you are using a thermostatic or pressure balance system. Pressure balance is the more traditional and economical system where water turns on as the temperature is set (one valve). Thermostatic system has a volume control that adjusts the water, and a thermostat trim that adjusts the temperature (two valves). This is a more expensive system that you will want to consider in a master bathroom and possibly other baths in the house.
You’ll also need to determine the height and locations of the plumbing parts in the shower. I typically recommend between 42”-48” high for the controls, although some people go as low as 36”. You may want the showerhead at 7’-0” high or even higher as the human population is much taller than they were in the 50’s and 60’s when showerheads were typically set at 6’-0” or 6’-6” high. Remember that most showerheads drop at least a few inches from where the arm connects to the pipe in the wall. You may want a rainhead shower that comes down from the ceiling or is even recessed into the ceiling. Even though technology has gotten better, if you are a stickler for water pressure, I would steer you away from a rainhead shower, as the water pressure feels different, unless you’ve tested a piece beforehand.
If you’re doing a curbless shower or an infinity drain you will also need to let your contractor know so the floor can be properly pitched for drainage, and the location of the drain.
Lighting and Electrical Considerations
Actual light fixtures don’t get installed until the very end, but the electrician will need to know how many junction boxes to install, where to install them, how many switches and dimmers (if any). Consider having enough overhead general ambient lighting as well as task lighting in the vanity area. I recommend using LED fixtures or bulbs with a color temperature of 2700k-3000k. You’ll want “soft white” lighting that gives a warmer yellowy color rather than a glaring “daylight” color temperature that gives off a blue light and makes you look sickly.
Think outside the box with lighting in the vanity area. Instead of 1 sconce above you mirror what about a lighted mirror medicine cabinet? Consider sconces that are more at your eye/face level on either side of the mirror, or funky pendant lights.
If you want an electric heated towel bar make sure you know where it’s going and have the model specifications to the electrician can wire properly for it!
I HIGHLY recommend sketching out your tile layouts before installing them. Whether it be a doodle on a paper napkin or a CAD elevation by a professional, I think this can be crucially important. Determine what walls will have tile, how high the tile will go up on the wall, and how you will finish any edges (with bullnose tile, or some piece of wood molding or metal trim). For untiled walls will you have wood base molding or use tile as a base? You may want to consider a chair rail height paneling or a vinyl wallcovering to add more depth to the walls. Remember that tile on the shower floor should be in a honed finish or rated for wet use on floors. It can be extremely dangerous to have a large format polished tile on a shower floor. I like to use mosaic tile on shower floors since it will have more grout lines to give traction.
Make sure you plan ahead for towel bars, robe hooks and towel rings. Make sure your towel bar is close and accessible to the shower so it can be grabbed while exiting the shower. If you don’t have the wall space for that, consider a small hook near the shower door for access.
When selecting a vanity make sure it will accommodate your storage needs. Does it have ample counter space, drawers and closed storage? An open leg console style sink might not be properly suited in an everyday bathroom compared to a guest bathroom that requires less concealed storage.
Pull out drawers like these from KraftMaid are a great way to access everything under your vanity and maximize efficiency
Open console vanities can attract clutter. Consider these only for bathrooms that are low traffic and don’t need a lot of storage for everyday toiletries
Renovating a bathroom can seem tedious, expensive and inconvenient. Hopefully this guide will help keep you a few steps ahead of your contractor to keep the timeline progressing! Give us call at 203-742-9955 if you’d like to do a free consultation on your potential bathroom remodel. And please feel free to use this downloadable checklist to make the planning smoother.
Katie Canfield’s design aesthetic is eclectic and flexible. She delights in the marriage between old and new- keeping spaces approachable but still matching each client’s unique aesthetic and family narrative. Her passion for design keeps her motivated and constantly on the hunt for new trends and materials. Her broad experience includes an art history background, study at the Accademia Italiana in Florence, a stint with the renowned Manhattan firm Amanda Nisbet Design, as well as collaborations with builders and designers across the tri-state area. She’s seen it all: from gutting prewar Manhattan apartments to new construction in the ‘burbs.